How Do We Glorify God?

Dear Reader,

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

[The Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 1]

Do you ever have thoughts that seem to obvious that you wonder why you never thought them before? That’s how I feel about my revelation about glorifying God. I had it in the midst of this post on the Principle Approach to homeschooling. I feel sort of stupid admitting that this is something I had not thought of before; it seems too obvious.

What struck me is that the Principle Approach, and other Christian approaches to education which I have examining, are trying to glorify God but that they are understanding how to go about that differently than I would. I will own that I have perhaps been too dismissive of other approaches because I thought their aims were worldly. But now I think that instead there is a much more fundamental question I should be asking. You see I had been asking how these various approaches understand education and also how they understand the nature of children and human nature. But now I think  I must also ask how they understand God. Because how we see God determines how we think He is glorified. And how He is glorified determines how we educate our children if, as Christians, we do seek to glorify Him and to teach our children to do so.

So I have been overly judgmental, I think, in saying that these other approaches do not tend to glorify God. It is not that they do not have this same goal. Rather, our differences lie not in intention but in how we think God is glorified.

A quick example would help, I think. The Principle Approach believes firmly in the principles of individuality and liberty. They see God as the source of both of these. So they play an important role in their approach to education. And when their children grow up, one of their main goals is to have those children work to further the rights of the individual and the cause of liberty. I had looked at this and said that, while I favor liberty, these goals focus too much on this world and therefore I rejected them. But from their perspective, if God is seen above all as an individual who invests His creation with individual characteristics and also as favoring liberty, then they are doing what they should, that is glorifying Him, by working to further these two principles.

So my dispute (and it is not just with the Principle Approach) is not with the ultimate goal but with the perception of how we get there.

So we must ask: How then do we glorify God?

Before trying to discern specifics, I would like to say that I do believe God is particular about how we glorify Him. It is not enough to just have the intention of bringing Him glory. We must go about it in ways that He approves. This is a principle I discern from various passages a Scripture in which God shows that He is not pleased when we try to honor Him in our ways and not in His way. The story of Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus comes to mind. They brought an incense offering to God but it was not as He had prescribed so He wiped them out. And there are many other similar stories.

So if we aim to glorify God, and we believe that he has definite opinions about how this should be done, we must ask: How does He wish to be glorified? What does He tell us is glorifying to Him?

Again, I turn to the Westminster Catechism:

“The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.”

So we must ask what the Bible tells us about glorifying God.

The first thing that come to mind is praise. To praise and glorify are often used synonymously:

“And the shepherds returned,  glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” [Luke 2:20; ESV]

Glorifying is also paired with thanking God:

“I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart,  and I will glorify your name forever.” [Ps 86:12]

These ways of glorifying God are verbal, and I don’t think we will disagree about them much (though we could debate the right way to praise God, but that is another post).

But we can also glorify God in other ways. Paul speaks of glorifying God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20). In the context, this means avoiding all kinds of sexual immorality. Indeed, we are told that in all areas of life we can and should glorify God:

“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” [1 Cor. 10:31]

So we see that even in seemingly mundane actions like eating, we can give glory to God. How do we do such things to the glory of God? The context in I Corinthians seems to say that the key is not to seek our own advantage but to consider the needs of others. In fact, we are told in this passage to ignore our own consciences if a weaker brother would be offended by our actions.

A similar idea is found in I Peter; we bring glory to God when we serve one another:

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.” [1 Pet. 4:10-12]

An added idea here would be that we glorify God when we use the gifts He has given us in the right way. Here I see at last an implication for education. We each have God-given talents and gifts. But often they must be developed, and we must also learn how they can be used in the service of others.

We also glorify God when we exhibit the characteristics He desires for us:

“And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” [Phil. 1:9-11]

In this passage love, knowledge, discernment, purity, blamelessness, and righteousness are all associated with glorifying God in our lives. I suppose to generalize we could say that when we live godly lives we bring Him glory. Or another way to put it might be that we glorify God when we, His people, exhibit His character in our own lives. The fact that He can change us miserable sinners more and more into His own image shows His glory.  There may be many reasons to flee sin and seek the Lord, but one good reason at least to cooperate in our own sanctification is that we may glorify Him by doing so.

At times we may glorify God indirectly. Jesus shows that one man’s illness was ordained to bring God glory:

“But when Jesus heard it he said,  “This illness does not lead to death. It is for  the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” [John 11:4]

Now when we set out to raise children who will glorify God, very few of us will say we want our children to have serious of chronic illnesses so that God may be glorified in them. But we must recognize that sometimes God being glorified in our lives means that there will be hard times. How was God glorified through this man’s illness? It was because of the praise He received when Jesus healed him. But even if one goes through life without knowing healing, an illness or other trial may still bring glory to God through the patience He gives us to endure it and through the ultimate healing which we receive at the end of our lives.

As God is glorified in the above example when He shows Himself as Healer, so too there other times when God shows His own glory through His attributes. I do not say He glorifies Himself, because that is not the language Scripture seems to use. It is not that God increases in glory but that He shows His glory. He shows it in His creation:

“The heavens declare the glory of God,  and the sky above  proclaims his handiwork.” [Ps 19:1]

He also shows His glory when He acts according to His character:

“Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold,  I am against you, O Sidon,  and  I will manifest my glory in your midst. And  they shall know that I am the LORD   when I execute judgments in her  and  manifest my holiness in her” [Ezek. 28:22]

We see in this passage that it is God’s judgments and holiness which show His glory. And I think here we begin to get to the controversial material. If we say that God is glorified when His attributes are seen by men, we must ask which attributes? If we have different views of God, if one tends to emphasize His mercy and another His justice, then we will have different conclusions about how God is best glorified.

Most of us are probably okay with the idea of a gracious God:

“For  it is all for your sake, so that as  grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving,  to the glory of God.” [2 Cor. 4:15]

But are we as comfortable when the subject is His judgment?

Finally, we are told that God’s glory will be revealed completely when He brings this world to an end:

” . . . waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ . . .” [Titus 2:13]

The common thread I detect running through all these passages is that God is glorified when His attributes are seen. Sometimes it is God directly revealing something about Himself. Sometimes it is His people showing Him through their godly character (which they would not have but for His working in them).

When it comes to our own lives, the traits which seem to be linked with glorifying God are serving one another and being righteous (with all the subcategories that implies: purity, blamelessness, truthfulness, etc).

When it comes to God, He is glorified when His “good” traits (as we humans tend to define it) are seen: His graciousness and mercy and compassion, but also when His harsher aspects are seen: His justice and judgment.

So I have  a few questions at this point. The first is are all of God’s traits to be seen in our lives? One with authority perhaps is expected to be just. But are we ever told to be judgmental as God is? Aren’t we rather told the opposite? The Bible says that vengeance is the Lord’s. In some societies, seeking revenge for wrongs has been viewed as a positive trait, but Christian societies have largely said that we should leave vengeance as God’s prerogative and not seek it ourselves. So if there are only some attributes of God which we are to show in our lives, then how do we discern which we should pursue?

Another question I have is how much of a role are we to play in the establishment of God’s kingdom? What I mean is that most of us would say that justice is a characteristic of God’s kingdom and that He is glorified when we work to make the world more just. But what about other aspects? Some would say for instance that the nation of Israel needed to be re-established for the end of the world to come about and so they would work politically to achieve and sustain this end. But is this up to us? Do we play that big a role in God’s plans?

And what about other aspects? I would agree with the Principle Approach that God’s kingdom will be characterized by liberty. There will be no slavery or subjugation in it (except that we will all be God’s subjects of course). But does this mean that liberty is something we should all be working for here and now? I am glad slavery has been outlawed in this country and I do think that Christianity had a lot to do with that and that God was glorified by it. But I would not set up liberty as an ideal and say that we must all work towards it. The problem is that there are too many definitions of liberty. Ending slavery is good. But limiting government control on all areas of life is a different matter. Some would say, for instance, that the government forcing everyone to buy health insurance infringes on our liberty.  We can call it a matter of  liberty but it is not really in the same category as slavery, is it?

I think one’s view of the end times also comes into play there. I hate to get into long words containing “millenialist.” To put it simply, we must ask do we expect this world to get better or not? If our view of this world is that it is fallen and God is going to wipe it out some day and start over with the new heavens and the new earth, then we don’t have much incentive to work for liberty and justice in this world, do we? Our goals instead will be self-focused. We will work on our own sanctification and perhaps for the salvation of others, but we will not invest in this world which we do not see as our home. On the other hand, if we are expecting to realize God’s millennial kingdom here and some time close to now, then we will be motivated to work for change in this world. And perhaps we will even, as so many have, think that this change is within our power. We risk forgetting that such things are ultimately the work of God and that though He may use us, He doesn’t need us to bring about His kingdom. And we also risk becoming too attached to this world and relying too much upon its mechanisms (like the political system or medical technology) to bring about the change we desire.

So perhaps all I have succeeded in showing is that there are a lot of factors that come into play when we begin to ask how we glorify God. The different Christian approaches to education I have looked at would all say that their goal is to raise people who seek to bring glory to God. But they still end up going about things in very different ways. Indeed, because their ideas of who God is and what glorifies Him are different, they do not really all aim at the same point.

I feel like I could do another whole series of posts on how each of these philosophies views God. I’m not going to do that, but I would like to take a minute to touch on each of them briefly.

I have picked a lot on the Principle Approach, mostly because it makes its values and views so clear. It is easy to see where it is coming from. I am sure there are fine differences, but I would like to combine it with the Thomas Jefferson approach to education. Both value individual rights and liberty to a high degree. Both also look for answers to a large degree in the political system. TJEd is less distinctly Christian, choosing instead to say it is based on Judeo-Christian values. But the Principle Approach bases its goals clearly on its view of the Christian God as an individual and a proponent of liberty. I have dealt with these to a certain extent already in one of my many follow-up posts on the Principle Approach.

The world of Christian classical education is a large one. When I examined that approach, I chose to focus particularly on Trivium Pursuit and the Circe Institute. The latter speaks most often of teaching values and wisdom. Values would translate to godly character which as we have seen is one of the ways in  which the Bible clearly says that we are able to bring glory to God. Wisdom also is clearly associated with God in the Bible and is something we are told to pursue. Overall, I feel that the Circe Institute’s approach is one I am attracted to. My one reservation on this topic of goals is that I am not sure their aim is broad enough.

Trivium Pursuit is similar in many ways. I find less talk about wisdom in it, however. Instead, there is a strong emphasis on the family. There is one model of Christian family life which seems to be the goal of this approach to education (see this earlier post). Families are good and God-ordained and certainly godly families can bring glory to God. But for myself, I think they limit themselves too much to one model of how Christian life should be.

The Charlotte Mason approach (which is the one I use so I am biased) has a very personal and yet broadly based take. Unlike the Principle Approach and TJEd, it does not talk much about the good of society. The effects are all for the individual. Neither are they limited to one area of study. Charlotte says the goal of education is to form a large number of relations in many areas, to set the student’s feet in a wide room as she puts it. How does this relate to glorifying God? I will admit that she does not use that language that I have read. But my own understanding would be that we glorify God who made this world and everything in it when we relate to it fully and when we develop ourselves fully in areas intellectual and aesthetic as well as moral.

How can approaches which are all Christian have such different goals? I think the answer is that we all have imperfect and ultimately deficient understandings of God. None of us can see the whole picture. So we emphasize one part over another. Each method seems good to its adherents, but to others it may seem as if they are adding something on to the divine revelation. That is how I feel about the Principle Approach and TJEd in particular. They use a lot of the right words and I follow them to a certain extent. But then they begin talking about liberty and individual property rights and I say “Where did these things come from? You are going beyond what I see in the Bible.” They would perhaps say the same of my approach or would say that I don’t go far enough.

What do you think? Is there one right answer to how we can glorify God and particularly how this affects education?

Nebby

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Patti on October 15, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    Dear Nebby: Again you have put these thoughts so eloquently. I have had the same ideas and reactions to the principle approach but I couldn’t put it into words so well – thank you. I agree that in the end it all comes down to glorifying God, but I appreciate how you explained that different Christians tend to see what this means in different ways and we need to humbly seek to understand what God thinks and wants. In the end it is what He thinks that matters. Wish we could sit down over tea sometime – you seem like such a kindred spirit! Thank you for taking time to express your thoughts. Patti

    Reply

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